How to Witness as a Winner

olympiad-260782_500webSince witnessing from a spirit of dejection and defeat won’t help anyone, all Christians should know how to witness as winners. After all, nobody wants to be like someone who is caught up in their own problems, living a life of misery. Jesus described His message as “good news,” and He called us to be “overcomers” (Rev. 2-3).

Being a winner doesn’t mean living a life of perfection. It means that despite our struggles, we trust in God to see us through it all. Winners don’t moan, complain, gossip, or hate. Instead, they maintain a mostly positive and joyful attitude by faith. John wrote, “This is the victory that overcomes the world, even our faith” (1 Jn. 5:4). We also hear from the Apostle Paul, “Rejoice in the Lord always, and again I say, rejoice!” (Phil. 4:4).

At this moment, your problems may seem greater than your faith. You may be surprised to know that is normal. Why? Because the problems are meant to help you increase your faith. Just as a runner can’t win a trophy if he or she doesn’t first run a challenging race, neither can you be victorious if you don’t have serious challenges to overcome.

With that background, I’ve come up with a four-step process to help you know how to witness as a winner.

1. Identify the Problem

The problem that many of us face when it comes to witnessing—or anything in life—is that we let excuses hold us back. For example, you may have told yourself that you’re an ineffective witness. If so, please know that I’ve “been there.”

I’m not into bashing Christians, if only because that leads to self-inflicted injuries. However, sometimes we need to examine ourselves. I feel that there’s a lot of truth to this tweet that I sent recently:

Some people know enough about Jesus, not to become Christians, but to become angry at Christians.

Sadly, many Christians, including myself, are part of the reason why some unbelievers have never come to Christ.

I used to brood over depressing truths like this. As you can imagine, the guilt and sorrow didn’t help me gain victory, nor become a more effective witness. By the same token, I wouldn’t expect it to benefit you if I used the rest of this blog post only to lament about how most of us are failing to lead unbelievers to Christ.

I now know that God is more gracious and forgiving than I had realized or expected. I’ve also learned that if I make the effort, I can find a silver lining in even the darkest cloud. You should also look for the silver lining once you’ve identified an excuse or problem.

2. Find the Silver Lining

As I had mentioned, Jesus described His message as “good news.” Therefore anyone who, when being honest with him or herself, considers the Bible’s message to be mostly negative has gotten it wrong.

Unfortunately, many Christian leaders unnecessarily spread negativity. For example, some tell us to expect rejection and persecution, even beyond what most of us actually experience in life.

Christian teachers who don’t understand grace say, either directly or indirectly, that we must prove our obedience in order to be saved. Really?… I confess that this is impossible for me. In fact, it’s impossible for anyone. Nobody can prove to God how “good” they are. Therefore, anyone who asks us to do so is essentially telling us we’re going to Hell. We should be teaching people to rely on God’s grace, not on their own works.

Again, I’m learning to be more positive-minded, both for psychological reasons and because I’m understanding the Bible better than before. Thus, before sending the above tweet, I thought about what positive lesson I could learn from it. As a result, I followed it with these messages:

This puts responsibility on us to be Christ-like. We are partners with Jesus in leading people to God!

Since the role of Christians is essential, we can have confidence that we will be glorified together with Christ if we are faithful.

However, we will cast down our crowns because the glory really belongs to Jesus!

Since God will judge (yet not condemn) Christians who will have been poor witnesses, will He not also reward the faithful witnesses? Accountability works both ways because God has promised to reward us for every good thing that we do. Jesus doesn’t deliver believers from damnation into some kind of neutral zone, but to enter into His eternal glory and joy!

I’m not suggesting that any of us deserve anything from God—only that we should expect to be rewarded if we trust in Christ and serve Him faithfully. Imagine how great a reward could await anyone who helps lead even one soul to Christ!

Instead of only being afraid of failure, we should put our eyes on Jesus, and on His ability to fulfill His purposes in us.

3. Trust in God to Help You

God is able and willing to help you fulfill all His purposes in your life. If you’re a Christian, you’re part of God’s Church, which is the body of Christ and the vessel that He has chosen to spread the gospel. This truth is illustrated in my infographic on God’s Plan of Salvation.

The fact that God has chosen us should give us confidence, yet not make us prideful. As the Lord Jesus told Jews who took pride in their physical descent, “God is able from these stones to raise up children for Abraham” (Matt. 3:9). We see another, more positive side of this in Luke 19. As Jesus entered Jerusalem on a colt, a large crowd of His disciples joyfully sang praises to Him. When the Pharisees asked Jesus to rebuke His disciples, Jesus replied, “I tell you, if they keep quiet, the stones will cry out” (Lk. 19:40).

This should give you an idea of how much God desires spiritual children to worship Him and be His witnesses – so much that if we Christians weren’t here He would raise up stones to take our place! Imagine that. The Lord may be looking at you right now thinking, “I’m glad _Your Name Here_ knows Me, and that I didn’t have to raise up a stone instead.”

Think about it. You are the only person who can:

  • Praise and worship God the way you do…
  • Overcome your personal hardships…
  • Be the unique witness that you are…
  • Touch the lives of people in your family and social circles.

There’s nothing any of us can do to earn God’s favor. He has forgiven us, and He accepts us the way we are.

God so desires to raise up spiritual children that Jesus laid down His life for us. Therefore, you can be certain that He’s on your side, willing to help you.

If you haven’t been living a victorious and joyful Christian life lately, why not resolve to begin this moment? You’re a reason why Christ gave His life. As I had mentioned from the start, faith is the victory that overcomes the world.

For every negative fact or experience in life, there are many more positives, if only we would take notice of them. If you ever have difficulty seeing a positive side, you can easily find many motivational truths in the Bible.

I don’t believe in pretending that unpleasant truths don’t exist, but in focusing mainly on the positives so that we can confidently face reality and make the best of our circumstances. We should also be aware that some of what we perceive to be negatives are utterly false, are only possible outcomes, or are beyond our control. As we focus on the positives and banish fears and worries by faith, we’ll bring bring positive outcomes into being. To put it in biblical language, we’ll bear fruit for God.

I can write only so much here about how to live a victorious Christian life. For further reading, I recommend the book, The Christian’s Secret of a Happy Life by Hannah Whitall Smith.

If we are to be the most effective witnesses we can possibly be, we must also learn to recognize…

4, The Greatest Witnessing Opportunity

Thumb-Up-150webDo you know an unbeliever who has recently run into difficult times? Maybe they sometimes appear to be sad, but you don’t know why. A friend, family member, or acquaintance may have suffered physically because of an illness or accident; become the victim of an ugly divorce; lost a loved one; or experienced some other tragedy. There doesn’t necessarily have to have been a “tragedy” since anyone could feel battered and abused by life itself.

Imagine what it must be like for anyone to go through life without knowing anything about God’s love, comfort, or hope of eternal salvation. Think about the loneliness, pain, fear, and frustration that this person you know may be feeling even now.

As I had mentioned, God has chosen to depend, not on angels, but on us Christians to preach the gospel. Our Lord identifies with all who are in need, including unbelievers. Witnessing isn’t so much about Christian bumper stickers and gospel tracts as it is about caring for needy people. This means we should focus especially on people like the ones I just described. Such people are almost always aware of their weaknesses and failures, and therefore seldom need anyone to point them out. Though they may never say it out loud, they need someone who will accept them as they are and come alongside them to offer comfort and help. If you can do that for them, they might be willing to listen if you talk to them about Jesus and what He’s done for you.

Remember that Jesus told us He would say to His sheep, “Whatever you did for the least of my brothers and sisters, that you did for Me” (Matt. 25:40). Any unbeliever can become a brother or sister of Jesus by becoming born again.

Have you also struggled with understanding the Bible’s message as being truly good news? Is there an excuse you’ve made for not having a burden to tell people about Jesus? How do you respond when that excuse comes to mind?

How to Use GPS – God’s Plan of Salvation (Infographic)

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You may use a GPS device to navigate the roadways, but the most important “GPS” is God’s plan of salvation. His plan for your salvation involves not only faith, but also works. The question that people asked after they heard Peter preach on the Day of Pentecost was, “What must we do to be saved?” (Acts 2:37). Salvation is a miraculous work of God, but that doesn’t mean all we need to do is accept it in a passive manner.

The papacy in Rome used to proclaim that salvation was only possible through the Church. Protestants reversed this by saying that salvation could only be obtained through faith in Jesus Christ. I am a Protestant, and I agree in substance with the Protestant position. However, I also think we should give the Church credit where credit is due. This was the inspiration behind the above infographic, God’s Plan of Salvation.

You’re probably familiar with the traditional view that is held by most evangelicals. Countless people have come to Christ after seeing the simple illustration of how Jesus bridged the gap between mankind and God (see the top half of the infographic). This picture confronts unbelievers with the stark choice of either accepting or rejecting Jesus Christ. That’s the decision that God has put before each of us, and Jesus is indeed the only way to God. However, as useful as the image of Jesus bridging the gap has been, it doesn’t tell the whole story. Can you think of what is missing from that picture?

As you may have guessed, the Church is absent from that picture. Seldom does anyone come to God without first hearing the gospel from a Christian. The Apostle Paul wrote:

How then will they call on him in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in him of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone preaching?

The lower picture helps us put everything in perspective, including the world, the Bible, the members of the Trinity, and Heaven. This picture also highlights the importance of the Church, especially the current generation of Christians. The call to receive salvation through Jesus Christ is also an invitation to join His body, the Church. Jesus wants people to sit at His feet and get to know Him, then go forth and do good works in His name. He has much unfinished business in this world.

Anyone looking at the top picture could get the mistaken impression that all mankind has fallen away from God. This was mostly true in the distant past, before the Church came into being. However, this is now highly inaccurate since all true Christians live in a restored relationship with God through Jesus Christ. God is at war with the powers of darkness that enslave mankind, not with people.

Mankind is not gathered in one enormous, anti-God alliance, as the top picture seems to indicate. Instead, mankind is spiritually divided between the world and the Church. The world is captivated by selfish desires, sensual lusts, and materialism. People hunger and thirst for spiritual fulfillment, which can only be found in Christ.

On the other side is the Church, which consists of people who have repented of sin, received Christ by faith, and seek to follow His ways. As is often pointed out, the Church is full of flawed people. Still, even unbelievers can witness the occasional sparkle of God’s love and grace shining like a diamond through us, even if we often feel like ordinary “rocks.” Further information can be found on the infographic itself.

This goes far beyond the question of what kind of graphic to use in slide presentations or how to present the gospel to an unbeliever. The issues addressed in this article are of critical importance to all Christians, and to understanding our mission in the world. S. Michael Craven recently discussed this topic in Why Is Christianity Losing in America? Here’s an excerpt:

The Pauline epistles, particularly Romans and Galatians, consist of precise statements of what Jesus achieved in his saving death and how that achievement could be appropriated by the individual. We often refer to this as the “plan of salvation” and it is, of course, true and essential to Christian understanding. Unfortunately, if this is all we believe, we only have part of the gospel leaving us with very little in terms of truly knowing Jesus’s mission and, subsequently, that of his church. This reductionist understanding was never the intent of those working to reform the church, but the Reformation would set the stage for the bifurcation of the gospel. Eventually we came to think of personal salvation as the “good news” apart from its crucial modifying phrase: “of the kingdom,” leaving us with a nebulous religious term (i.e., the kingdom) that fewer and fewer Christians would even understand.

I hope you enjoyed this article, and the infographic about God’s Plan of Salvation. I invite you to share it on social media, and on your Christian website if you have one. Please provide a link back to this article. As always, feel free to share your thoughts below.

Biblical Literalism is Irrelevant and Impotent

Nebuchadnezzar_William-Blake

Nebuchadnezzar by William Blake

The hugely popular approach to Scripture known as biblical literalism has resulted in cultural and political impotence for the Church, and led to many false and harmful teachings. I explained this in detail in my book, Return to Genesis, and will happily do so more briefly below.

In a previous article, How to Study the Bible, I suggested some principles for us to keep in mind as we study God’s Word. The only one that might be be considered controversial by some is principle #1, on not bringing a literal bias to the text. Many Christians insist on doing exactly that, and sadly they are proud of it.

As the author of this “Premodern Wisdom” blog, I can assure you that from everything I know about the ancients, they were not inclined to literalism. They viewed the world holistically rather than atomistically. Since the people lived close to nature, they were natural poets, at least in comparison with most of us. They found a rich source of metaphors and symbols in everything from the seas, lands, and their animals below, to the sky and birds above.

Jesus spoke in parables to the crowds, and often used metaphors from the Old Testament when speaking to His disciples. Our Lord is also given direct credit for The Revelation of Jesus Christ (Rev. 1:1), which is rich in symbolism.

Somehow, Christian literalists have succeeded in making the New Testament mostly about Paul’s teachings, not those of our Lord Jesus.

I don’t doubt that most biblical literalists sincerely want to understand the Bible. Through their methodology, however, they unintentionally reduce its relevance and power. The problem is that in putting objective knowledge before subjective knowledge, they also put human reason before divine revelation.

Jesus said a tree will be known by its fruit. Whether we talk about Fundamentalist Christians, or strict Calvinists, all biblical literalists tend to be legalistic and judgmental. This all comes from the “tree” of using human reason as the primary, if not exclusive means of understanding God’s Word.

God wants us to use our ability to reason, but we can’t fully understand His Word without also using our hearts. Otherwise, even if we have the best intentions, we will limit God and marginalize His Word.

The Push to Marginalize the Bible

Recently, I’ve been thinking about the fact that we all bring our own preconceptions and biases to our study of God’s Word. There are some legitimate ones, which are listed in my post on How to Study the Bible. Anyway, I asked the Lord in prayer whether I was correct about all the biases and expectations that I bring to the Bible. For instance, more than most Christians, I find a lot of application and relevance in the Bible, including the Old Testament. I asked the Lord in prayer, “Is this right? And if so, how can I defend myself from any critics?”

After I had pondered the question for a few days, the Lord brought Mark 7:13 (KJV) to my remembrance:

Making the word of God of none effect through your tradition, which ye have delivered: and many such like things do ye.

I realize that even though this came as a revelation to me, it may seem obvious to you. We’ve all been told to apply the Scriptures. However, for me, nobody had ever tied it in with this verse.

This verse confirmed for me that general speaking, seeing the Bible as relevant for today is not a bad thing. This, of course, doesn’t justify every “relevant” or “practical” interpretation. As I had explained, we must take time to understand the context and rightly interpret the Word.

This verse also reminded me that people who are influenced by the sin nature want to think of the Bible as being mostly, if not entirely irrelevant. We can easily confirm this by taking a poll of nonbelievers. The same sin nature is present in all Christians.

Literalists Deny the Bible’s Relevance

Biblical literalists take pride in interpreting Bible passages literally when possible. While it is often possible to take a metaphor literally, that can make us look kind of silly. Moreover, literal readings often detract from the Bible’s relevance for believers, and for the world today.

Antichrist – from a fresco, Osogovo Monastery, Macedonia

Here’s an example of what I’m talking about. Even though Christ defeated sin and death, many literalists insist that Satan and his minions will always be the supreme rulers of this world. By putting off the kingdom of God to eternity future, they’ve absolved themselves of a great many earthly responsibilities. They and their followers’ defensive response to this evil world is to be good, engage in personal evangelism, and wait for Jesus to come back and rescue them.

In God’s Dominion and Christ’s Kingdom I explained, or rather allowed the Bible to explain, that God is establishing His kingdom in the here and now. Jesus received all authority in heaven and earth. Unlike many of us, He does not suffer from apathy and indifference. God both desires and intends to reign in this world.

God is so great that He is able to convert His enemies by His love through the Holy Spirit and the Church. If God had to forcibly conquer all enemies in order to reign, that would only mean that He had a better army, would it not? Let’s not forget that we were also enemies of Christ before He graciously revealed Himself to us. Are we somehow better, or more worthy than all the non-Christians?… Are we so much more “elect” that God will never save most of the “heathen”?

Biblical literalists also taught me, along with billions of other people, the racist nonsense that Gentile Christians are second class citizens who play only a minor role in God’s plans. Supposedly, ethnic Jews are the “apple” of God’s eyes, and are the true Israel. This teaching disempowers Gentile Christians by causing us to think we don’t have an important role in redemption history. Presumably, the Church won’t even lead the Jewish people to Christ since the Lord will have to return and do it Himself.

Incidentally, a big theme of the literalists is that Jesus is going to take care of everything. No, not Jesus working through the Church today, but the future Jesus in the clouds with His giant sword and His enormous army of angels. That’s the kind of Jesus that even Jews can respect! Sarcasm aside, we must accept responsibility for converting Jews through the preaching of the gospel.

There is only one true Israel. The promised seed of Abraham is Christ (Gal. 3:16). Therefore, anyone who is in Christ, whether Jew or Gentile, is a member of the true Israel (Acts 10:34-35, Rom. 9:6-8, Gal. 3:27-29, 4:28, 6:15-16). Those who are of Israel according to the flesh seek physical land and political power. However, those who belong to spiritual Israel desire a heavenly country (Gal. 4:25-26, Heb. 11:13-16). Jesus Himself sought to abolish Jewish tribalism when He told the Jews that their physical descent was of no value (Matt. 3:9, 21:43, John 8:37-44, Rev. 2:9).

Literalists falsely boast that they look for, and believe in whatever is “plainly” taught in the Bible. The identity of God’s people is so transparent in God’s Word that it should be beyond dispute. Nonetheless, false teachers (of the “Dispensationalist” sect) constantly rail against biblical truth. They teach all people that Gentile Christians are an accident of history since God’s prophets (as they allege) knew nothing about us. They insist that God wants Christians to bless the “chosen people,” not so much by leading Jews to Christ, but by supporting pro-Zionist causes and the apartheid state of Israel.

Biblical literalists, under the influence of the human tradition known as Modernism, emphasized the individual over society, and objective knowledge over what they consider to be“subjective” knowledge. However, by definition, anything that we believe in by faith cannot be proven by objective means. Therefore, every Christian ought to be careful lest we give too prominent a place to objective knowledge rather than to faith in God.

Christian fundamentalists employ their literal bias in the belief that they’re both called and able to dissect and rationalize the Bible’s teachings. This has resulted in innumerable schisms and false teachings. The literalists have left the United States and other formerly Christian nations with a form of Christianity that is mostly irrelevant, impotent and in many cases, even counterproductive.

Turn Away!

The Apostle Paul warned us about disempowering teachers with a shallow, pious form of spirituality in the following words:

Having a form of godliness, but denying the power thereof: from such turn away. ~ 2 Timothy 3:5

Thankfully, some Evangelicals are less consistent than others in their emphasis on interpreting the Bible literally. For example, I “met” (through their writings at least) some Reformed teachers who had taken time to study the symbolism behind the Bible’s prophecies. This helped me understand what God is doing in the world today. To give you a hint, He’s not orchestrating “Armageddon.” Christians who don’t understand God’s plans for this world are like soldiers who have lost contact with their senior commander. To learn more about Bible prophecy, I recommend these articles.

I understand why Evangelicals embraced biblical literalism. The literalists do allow for some typology because they can’t deny that which is explicit in the Bible and because it confirms that Christ was prophesied in the Old Testament. However, they fear that if anyone were to find “too many” symbols, types, or patterns in a historical narrative, people would begin to challenge the historicity of that account—as if this is an uncommon occurrence.

This apparently means that we should always be looking in a “rear view mirror” at liberal skeptics, and even let that fear guide our Bible studies. In their own version of How to Study the Bible, any honest biblical literalist would have to include, “Be Very Afraid of Theological Liberals.”

I know all about the kind of pressures that liberals, Judaizers, atheists, and other groups like to put on Christians. Still, I don’t knowingly allow any fears to dictate how I study God’s Word!

People will think what they want about the Bible in terms of its historical reliability. Regardless, I’m not ashamed to tell them about its beautiful poetry and symbolism. As Christians learn more about the literary depth and artistry of the Bible, the Church will be strengthened, and we will lead more people to faith in Christ.

I hope you can see that it’s much more biblical and sensible to take a balanced approach to Bible interpretation than to focus on literal teachings at the expense of the poetry and symbolism. We can’t have it both ways.

You may be unsure about all this if you don’t consider yourself to be a “theologian.” If that is that case (or even if not), please share this post in Christian discussion forums and by using the social media buttons. This could pressure some literalists to respond. If that happens, please let me know. I will gladly respond to them if needed.

[You can find more detailed discussions of biblical literalism, the meaning of “Israel,” Jewish supremacism, and Bible poetry in Return to Genesis].

How to Study the Bible: 13 Principles

Bible-study

Every Christian who is able to read and study the Bible should do so. One of the most important skills that anyone can have is that of knowing how to study the Bible.

The people of Berea tested Paul’s teachings against the Scriptures (Acts 17:11). We should also study the Bible for ourselves, for the sake of other people in our lives, and out of love for the Lord. God’s Word is able to build us up and give us an inheritance among God’s holy people (Acts 20:32).

All too often, we have relied on pastors to do Bible studies for us. However, the position of pastor is only one of five ministry gifts (Eph. 4:11). In addition, any Christian could bring a teaching or revelation to share with other believers (1 Cor. 14:26).

Since Bible teachers disagree on many doctrines, perhaps all do not start from the right foundation. We must all begin with the question of how to study the Bible. I think the best way of studying the Bible is not to go through a long list of steps, but only to be aware of some important principles in mind. I would suggest that you keep in mind the following thirteen principles.

We Should Study the Bible…

1. While Putting the Context First

In order to understand the Bible, we must take into account the genre and context of every passage. Unfortunately, some Bible interpreters tend to override this rule by bringing a literal bias to every passage. It’s neither possible, nor desirable to interpret every Bible passage literally. Anyone who has read the Book of Revelation should understand the folly of this approach.

2. As Relevant

Since all Scripture is God-breathed and useful (2 Tim. 3:16), we ought to think about how to apply the Bible’s teachings in every area of life. Unfortunately, each of us is tempted in some ways to suppress or minimize the truths presented in God’s Word (Mk. 7:13, Rom. 1:8). That’s because our sin natures do not want to do the will of God (Rom. 7:18). To offer an example, I believe this explains why many Christians teach that Satan reigns in this world, and that we’ll only see the kingdom of God after we die or are raptured. This seemingly innocent doctrine appeals to the sin nature by telling Christians, “This world is evil, and there’s nothing you can do about it.” If this were true, it would conveniently absolve God’s people of much accountability, and many responsibilities in this world.

Among other things, relevance equates to responsibility and representation. God has empowered us through the Holy Spirit, informed us through His Word, and called us to responsibly represent Him in this world.

3. As History

The Christian faith is based, not on myths or fables, but on historical events such as the Resurrection of Christ. Although we often don’t have external evidence to support the Bible’s historical accounts, we can and must rely on faith. Let’s not forget that Jesus Himself believed in the inspiration and historicity of the Scriptures, including the stories involving miracles.

By the way, if you don’t already know this, it’s no secret that I’m opposed to biblical literalism. Literalists seem to think they are the only Christians who take the Bible seriously and read it as history. Some have mockingly told me things like, “Maybe Jesus wasn’t a literal person.” In fact, when we follow Rule #1, we find that the Bible describes Jesus as having been a real Person, in addition to being God.

My “bias” toward reading the Bible as history can be supported not only from Jesus’ example, but also from passages such as 1 John 1:3. I know of no verses or doctrines that would support a literal bias.

4. As a Collection of Ancient Texts

In order to fully understand the Bible, we need to learn about ancient Hebrew culture, about people such as the Greeks, and some world history. I’m especially fascinated by how the ancient Hebrews perceived God and the world, and by the poetry, metaphors, types, and patterns that they employed. This explains my blog’s title, Premodern Wisdom for Postmodern Times.

5. With Christ at the Center

Of the three members of the Trinity, only Jesus is referred to as the “Word of God” (Jn. 1:1, 14). The Bible gives us God’s plan of redemption through Christ. The Old Testament pointed forward to Christ, and the New Testament presents the full revelation. We’re allowed to find Jesus in the Old Testament because the Holy Spirit knew about Jesus, even if the human authors didn’t.

6. With Diligence

Like the Bereans, we shouldn’t unthinkingly accept what other Christians teach us about the Bible. We should seek to understand the entire flow of Bible from Genesis to Revelation. Jesus, His apostles, and Paul were all steeped in the Hebrew Scriptures. Similarly, each of the prophets knew what had been written before their time. We can’t expect to understand the Bible if we only study parts of it in isolation.

7. With Our Spirits

The Bible is a spiritual book that must be spiritually understood (1 Cor. 2:13-14). Ask the Lord to help you understand His Word, and read it in a calm and prayerful state of mind. You’ll learn much this way, and you’ll know that the glory belongs to God.

8. With Our Minds

Christians should engage the culture, and not only for personal evangelism. We should relate the Bible’s teachings to our society and intelligently interact with the secular world. The idea is not to seek respectability in the eyes of the world but to let it be known that God’s Word is Truth and, again, that it’s relevant.

9. With Our Hearts

Jeremiah wrote that the heart is deceitful above all things (17:9), but later wrote that God planned to write His law on our hearts (31:33). No matter where we turn in the Bible (or what someone may say to us), our hearts can help us remember that God loves all people, and that He is especially loving, gracious, and merciful to us who believe. Jesus freed us from the Law, and does not condemn us (Rom. 8:1-2).

10. With Our Imaginations

In one of the most beloved psalms, David used metaphors to compare himself to a lamb being led by the Lord, his shepherd. The Bible offers many such metaphors, which invite us to use our imaginations. Anyone who tells you our imaginations are always evil is relying on errant Bible translations that they took out of context.

11. With Our Consciences

Even though our consciences are also fallible, we all have a pretty good idea of what’s right and wrong. We should question any Bible interpretation that makes God appear unjust or immoral, especially when such interpretations are used to justify human evil.

12. With Bible Study Resources

I am thankful for Christians whose research and studies helped me understand the Bible with my mind. They also helped me know in my heart and conscience that God has always been good and just in His words and deeds. I consult Bible study resources whenever I study a scripture passage or topic in depth. Since you’re reading this, I’m sure you already believe in taking advantage of the many Bible translations, tools, books, articles, and other resources that we can find both on the Internet and in bookstores.

13. With the Proper Balance

Everything above points to the need for a balanced approach to God’s Word. The Bible is a beautiful, heavenly, and grace-filled book. Paradoxically, much of it is crude, earthy, and confrontational. The Bible tells us that God’s loves us unconditionally, but also that we’re sinners in need of repentance. Jesus is fully God, but He’s also fully human. I could go on, but I’m sure you get the point. In order to find approval with God as students of His Word, we must hold its seemingly contradictory truths in tension.

Some elements in the above list may be new to you. In particular, you may have been taught that you should try to take the Bible literally whenever possible. For this reason, I further explain my opposition to biblical literalism and my “relevancy bias” in a follow-up post titled, Biblical Literalism is Irrelevant and Impotent.

I believe the above list can help you gain more from your Bible studies, and help you evaluate the doctrines that you’ve been taught. Given the need for balance, it may benefit you to think of which areas you’re strong in, and where you may be weak.

If you can think of anything I missed, or if you have any other comment, here’s your opportunity.

God’s Dominion and Christ’s Kingdom

Stefaneschi-Triptych-Christ-Enthroned-web

These terms, dominion and kingdom, are two of the most important words in the Bible. Unfortunately, they may also be the most commonly misunderstood terms.

Mention either of these words in the “wrong” context, and you will have contention. If you believe, and confess that Jesus is establishing His kingdom on the earth, some Christians will stare at you as if you have two heads. They may assume that you’re an imbecile who wants to forcibly overthrow the government and replace it with a Christian regime. They may even hate you and make false accusations against you.

It’s a shame that such a thoroughly biblical idea is the source of so much strife and division today. As you can see from the Scripture passages below, God always intended to establish His kingdom on the earth. This is why the Jews, and even the early Christians expected their Messiah to reign in this world.

The Stefaneschi Triptych – Christ Enthroned (c. 1330)

Since even Satan offered Jesus an earthly kingdom, how could the Father of our Savior have done any less? In fact, the Bible explicitly states that God the Father gave Jesus all authority in heaven and on earth (Mt 28:18-20, also quoted below). Given that all authority belongs to our Lord, should we passively let Satan reign (Jas. 4:17)?

Admittedly, God doesn’t call Christians to lord it over one another, nor over anyone else. We are still learning about the meaning and application of terms such as “dominion” and the “kingdom of God.” Still, there’s no reason to judge Christians who believe in the relevancy of these concepts as fringe lunatics who don’t understand the Bible. Anyone who wrongly judges another is subject to God’s judgment.

Throughout the Bible, we read about God exercising dominion through His people, both in promises and in the fulfillment. That’s why I’m a postmillennialist. This means I believe Jesus reigns now, and that He will continue to extend His kingdom on the earth until He returns. I can’t fully explain this here, but if you’d like to learn more about postmillennialism and the end times, see my article collection at Scoop.it. For church and state-related issues, see this link.

Anti-dominion, pietist Christians can quote a few verses, but their misinterpretations are easily refuted. For instance, when Jesus said, “My kingdom is not of this world” (Jn. 18:36), He was merely saying that His kingdom is not materialistic or worldly. Jesus definitely believed that His heavenly kingdom was breaking forth in this world (Mt 4:17, 11:12).

Jesus also said, “the kingdom of God is within you” (Lk. 17:21). Christian pietists like to quote this verse, as do New Agers. However, Jesus didn’t teach that religion was only a matter of the heart or spirit. He taught that whatever is in us will also come out of us (Mt. 12:33-35, cf. Jas. 3:11-12). The kingdom of God starts and ends with the human heart as life touches life, but in the process it transforms the world.

If, in your mind, you’ve shifted the kingdom of God to a future time after Jesus’ Second Coming, I would like to suggest that you think instead about how you can help build His kingdom in this lifetime.

Sometimes the best “Bible study” is to simply read what the Bible says for yourself. All of the following verses are taken from only one version of the Bible–the English Standard Version. The only added element in some verses is the italics.

Bible Verses on God’s Dominion and Christ’s Kingdom

And God blessed them. And God said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over every living thing that moves on the earth.” (Gen. 1:28)

I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and her offspring; he shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise his heel. (Gen. 3:15)

I will surely bless you, and I will surely multiply your offspring as the stars of heaven and as the sand that is on the seashore. And your offspring shall possess the gate of his enemies, and in your offspring shall all the nations of the earth be blessed, because you have obeyed my voice.” (Gen. 22:17-18)

all the earth shall be filled with the glory of the Lord. (Num. 14:21)

Behold, to the LORD your God belong heaven and the heaven of heavens, the earth with all that is in it. (Dt. 10:14)

And if you faithfully obey the voice of the LORD your God, being careful to do all his commandments that I command you today, the LORD your God will set you high above all the nations of the earth. And all these blessings shall come upon you and overtake you, if you obey the voice of the LORD your God… And the LORD will make you abound in prosperity, in the fruit of your womb and in the fruit of your livestock and in the fruit of your ground, within the land that the LORD swore to your fathers to give you. The LORD will open to you his good treasury, the heavens, to give the rain to your land in its season and to bless all the work of your hands. And you shall lend to many nations, but you shall not borrow. And the LORD will make you the head and not the tail, and you shall only go up and not down, if you obey the commandments of the LORD your God, which I command you today, being careful to do them. (Dt. 28:1-2, 11-13)

The LORD makes poor and makes rich; he brings low and he exalts. He raises up the poor from the dust; he lifts the needy from the ash heap to make them sit with princes and inherit a seat of honor. (1 Sam. 2:7-8)

But will God indeed dwell on the earth? Behold, heaven and the highest heaven cannot contain you; how much less this house that I have built! (1 Kgs. 8:25)

Yours, O LORD, is the greatness and the power and the glory and the victory and the majesty, for all that is in the heavens and in the earth is yours. Yours is the kingdom, O LORD, and you are exalted as head above all. Both riches and honor come from you, and you rule over all. In your hand are power and might, and in your hand it is to make great and to give strength to all. (1 Chr. 29:11-12)

As for me, I have set my King on Zion, my holy hill. I will tell of the decree: The LORD said to me, “You are my Son; today I have begotten you. Ask of me, and I will make the nations your heritage, and the ends of the earth your possession. You shall break them with a rod of iron and dash them in pieces like a potter’s vessel. (Ps. 2:6-9)

All the ends of the earth shall remember and turn to the LORD, and all the families of the nations shall worship before you. For kingship belongs to the LORD, and he rules over the nations. (Ps. 22:27-28)

The earth is the LORD’s and the fullness thereof, the world and those who dwell therein. (Ps. 24:1)

Come, behold the works of the LORD, how he has brought desolations on the earth. He makes wars cease to the end of the earth; he breaks the bow and shatters the spear; he burns the chariots with fire. “Be still, and know that I am God. I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth!” The LORD of hosts is with us; the God of Jacob is our fortress. Selah (Ps. 46:8-11)

For God is the King of all the earth; sing praises with a psalm! God reigns over the nations; God sits on his holy throne. The princes of the peoples gather as the people of the God of Abraham. For the shields of the earth belong to God; he is highly exalted! (Ps. 47:7-9)

May all kings fall down before him, all nations serve him! (Ps. 72:11)

The LORD says to my Lord: “Sit at my right hand, until I make your enemies your footstool.” The LORD sends forth from Zion your mighty scepter. Rule in the midst of your enemies! (Ps. 110:1-2)

All the kings of the earth shall give you thanks, O LORD, for they have heard the words of your mouth, and they shall sing of the ways of the LORD, for great is the glory of the LORD. (Ps. 138:4-5)

It shall come to pass in the latter days that the mountain of the house of the LORD shall be established as the highest of the mountains, and shall be lifted up above the hills; and all the nations shall flow to it, and many peoples shall come, and say: “Come, let us go up to the mountain of the LORD, to the house of the God of Jacob, that he may teach us his ways and that we may walk in his paths.” For out of Zion shall go the law, and the word of the LORD from Jerusalem. He shall judge between the nations, and shall decide disputes for many peoples; and they shall beat their swords into plow-shares, and their spears into pruning hooks; nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war anymore. (Isa. 2:2-4)

For to us a child is born, to us a son is given; and the government shall be upon his shoulder, and his name shall be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. Of the increase of his government and of peace there will be no end, on the throne of David and over his kingdom, to establish it and to uphold it with justice and with righteousness from this time forth and forevermore. The zeal of the LORD of hosts will do this. (Isa. 9:6-7)

They shall not hurt or destroy in all my holy mountain; for the earth shall be full of the knowledge of the LORD as the waters cover the sea. (Isa. 11:9, cf. Hab. 2:14)

On this mountain the LORD of hosts will make for all peoples a feast of rich food, a feast of well-aged wine, of rich food full of marrow, of aged wine well refined. And he will swallow upon this mountain the covering that is cast over all peoples, the veil that is spread over all nations. He will swallow up death forever; and the Lord GOD will wipe away tears from all faces, and the reproach of his people he will take away from all the earth, for the LORD has spoken. (Isa. 25:6-8, cf. 1 Cor. 15:54, 2 Cor. 3:12-4:6, Rev. 21:4)

Turn to me and be saved, all the ends of the earth! For I am God, and there is no other. (Isa. 45:22)

Kings shall be your foster fathers, and their queens your nursing mothers. With their faces to the ground they shall bow down to you, and lick the dust of your feet. Then you will know that I am the Lord; those who wait for me shall not be put to shame. (Isa. 49:23)

For I know the plans I have for you, declares the LORD, plans for welfare and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope. (Jer. 29:11)

But this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, declares the LORD: I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts. And I will be their God, and they shall be my people. And no longer shall each one teach his neighbor and each his brother, saying, ‘Know the LORD,’ for they shall all know me, from the least of them to the greatest, declares the LORD. For I will forgive their iniquity, and I will remember their sin no more.” (Jer. 31:33-34)

Then the iron, the clay, the bronze, the silver, and the gold, all together were broken in pieces, and became like the chaff of the summer threshing floors; and the wind carried them away, so that not a trace of them could be found. But the stone that struck the image became a great mountain and filled the whole earth. (Dan. 2:35)

I saw in the night visions, and behold, with the clouds of heaven there came one like a son of man, and he came to the Ancient of Days and was presented before him. And to him was given dominion and glory and a kingdom, that all peoples, nations, and languages should serve him; his dominion is an everlasting dominion, which shall not pass away, and his kingdom one that shall not be destroyed… But the saints of the Most High shall receive the kingdom and possess the kingdom forever, forever and ever. (Dan. 7:13-14, 18, cf. Mt. 24:30, 26:64)

Then he said to me, “This is the word of the LORD to Zerubbabel: Not by might, nor by power, but by my Spirit, says the LORD of hosts.” (Zech. 4:6)

Rejoice greatly, O daughter of Zion! Shout aloud, O daughter of Jerusalem! Behold, your king is coming to you; righteous and having salvation is he, humble and mounted on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a donkey. I will cut off the chariot from Ephraim and the war horse from Jerusalem; and the battle bow shall be cut off, and he shall speak peace to the nations; his rule shall be from sea to sea, and from the River to the ends of the earth. (Zech. 9:9-10)

Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth. (Mt. 5:5)

You are the salt of the earthYou are the light of the world… (Mt. 5:13-14)

Your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven. (Mt. 6:10)

He put another parable before them, saying, “The kingdom of heaven is like a grain of mustard seed that a man took and sowed in his field. It is the smallest of all seeds, but when it has grown it is larger than all the garden plants and becomes a tree, so that the birds of the air come and make nests in its branches.” He told them another parable. “The kingdom of heaven is like leaven that a woman took and hid in three measures of flour, till it was all leavened.” (Mt. 13:31-33)

And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it. I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven. (Mt. 16:18-19)

“Go therefore to the main roads and invite to the wedding feast as many as you find.” And those servants went out into the roads and gathered all whom they found, both bad and good. So the wedding hall was filled with guests. (Mt. 22:9-10)

And Jesus came and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.” (Mt. 28:18-20)

He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. And the Lord God will give to him the throne of his father David, and he will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end. (Lk. 1:32-33)

The next day he saw Jesus coming toward him, and said, “Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!” (Jn. 1:29)

For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him. (Jn. 3:16-17)

Now is the judgment of this world; now will the ruler of this world be cast out. And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself. (Jn. 12:31-32)

I have said these things to you, that in me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world. (Jn. 16:33)

He presented himself alive to them after his suffering by many proofs, appearing to them during forty days and speaking about the kingdom of God. (Acts 1:3)

So when they had come together, they asked him, “Lord, will you at this time restore the kingdom to Israel?” He said to them, “It is not for you to know times or seasons that the Father has fixed by his own authority.” (Acts 1:6-7)

For so the Lord has commanded us, saying, “‘I have made you a light for the Gentiles, that you may bring salvation to the ends of the earth.’” (Acts 13:47, cf. Isa. 49:6)

“…I am sending you to open their eyes, so that they may turn from darkness to light and from the power of Satan to God, that they may receive forgiveness of sins and a place among those who are sanctified by faith in me.” (Acts 26:17b-18)

But the free gift is not like the trespass. For if many died through one man’s trespass, much more have the grace of God and the free gift by the grace of that one man Jesus Christ abounded for many. (Rom. 5:15)

Therefore, as one trespass led to condemnation for all men, so one act of righteousness leads to justification and life for all men. For as by the one man’s disobedience the many were made sinners, so by the one man’s obedience the many will be made righteous. (Rom. 5:18-19)

What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things? (Rom. 8:31-32)

The night is far gone; the day is at hand. So then let us cast off the works of darkness and put on the armor of light. (Rom. 13:12)

The God of peace will soon crush Satan under your feet. (Rom. 16:20)

Now to him who is able to strengthen you according to my gospel and the preaching of Jesus Christ, according to the revelation of the mystery that was kept secret for long ages but has now been disclosed and through the prophetic writings has been made known to all nations, according to the command of the eternal God, to bring about the obedience of faith—to the only wise God be glory forevermore through Jesus Christ! Amen. (Rom. 16:25-27)

For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ shall all be made alive. But each in his own order: Christ the firstfruits, then at his coming those who belong to Christ. Then comes the end, when he delivers the kingdom to God the Father after destroying every rule and every authority and power. For he must reign until he has put all his enemies under his feet. The last enemy to be destroyed is death. (1 Cor. 15:22-26)

All this is from God, who through Christ reconciled us to himself and gave us the ministry of reconciliation; that is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting to us the message of reconciliation. (2 Cor. 5:18-19)

For the weapons of our warfare are not of the flesh but have divine power to destroy strongholds. We destroy arguments and every lofty opinion raised against the knowledge of God, and take every thought captive to obey Christ. (2 Cor. 10:4-5)

And the Scripture, foreseeing that God would justify the Gentiles by faith, preached the gospel beforehand to Abraham, saying, “In you shall all the nations be blessed.” (Gal. 3:8, cf. Gen 12:3)

…according to his purpose, which he set forth in Christ as a plan for the fullness of time, to unite all things in him, things in heaven and things on earth. (Eph. 1:9b-10)

…and what is the immeasurable greatness of his power toward us who believe, according to the working of his great might that he worked in Christ when he raised him from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly places, far above all rule and authority and power and dominion, and above every name that is named, not only in this age but also in the one to come. And he put all things under his feet and gave him as head over all things to the church, which is his body, the fullness of him who fills all in all. (Eph. 1:19-23)

He disarmed the rulers and authorities and put them to open shame, by triumphing over them in him. (Col. 2:15)

First of all, then, I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for all people… This is good, and it is pleasing in the sight of God our Savior, who desires all people to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth. (1 Tim. 2:1, 3-4)

Since therefore the children share in flesh and blood, he himself likewise partook of the same things, that through death he might destroy the one who has the power of death, that is, the devil. (Heb. 2:14)

Submit yourselves therefore to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. Draw near to God, and he will draw near to you. (Jas. 4:7-8)

He is the propitiation for our sins, and not for ours only but also for the sins of the whole world. (1 Jn. 2:2)

the darkness is passing away and the true light is already shining. (1 Jn. 2:8)

I write to you, young men, because you are strong, and the word of God abides in you, and you have overcome the evil one. (1 Jn. 2:14b)

The reason the Son of God appeared was to destroy the works of the devil. (1 Jn. 3:8)

Little children, you are from God and have overcome them, for he who is in you is greater than he who is in the world. (1 Jn. 4:4)

And we have seen and testify that the Father has sent his Son to be the Savior of the world. (1 Jn. 4:14)

Jesus Christ [is] the faithful witness, the firstborn of the dead, and the ruler of kings on earth. (Rev. 1:5)

The one who conquers and who keeps my works until the end, to him I will give authority over the nations, and he will rule them with a rod of iron, as when earthen pots are broken in pieces, even as I myself have received authority from my Father. (Rev. 2:26-27)

And they sang a new song, saying: “You are worthy to take the scroll, And to open its seals; For You were slain, And have redeemed us to God by Your blood Out of every tribe and tongue and people and nation, And have made us kings and priests to our God; And we shall reign on the earth.” (Rev. 5:9-10)

After this I looked, and behold, a great multitude that no one could number, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed in white robes, with palm branches in their hands, and crying out with a loud voice, “Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb!” (Rev. 7:9-10)

Then the seventh angel blew his trumpet, and there were loud voices in heaven, saying, “The kingdom of the world has become the kingdom of our Lord and of his Christ, and he shall reign forever and ever.” (Rev. 11:15)

And the great dragon was thrown down, that ancient serpent, who is called the devil and Satan, the deceiver of the whole world—he was thrown down to the earth, and his angels were thrown down with him. And I heard a loud voice in heaven, saying, “Now the salvation and the power and the kingdom of our God and the authority of his Christ have come, for the accuser of our brothers has been thrown down, who accuses them day and night before our God. (Rev. 12:9-10, also Rev. 21–22)

Blessed and holy is he who has part in the first resurrection. Over such the second death has no power, but they shall be priests of God and of Christ, and shall reign with Him a thousand years. (Rev. 20:6)

(Source: Appendix A of Return to Genesis).

Do you know of any Bible verses that I didn’t include in this list? If so, please let me know by commenting below.